This book is an annotated source translation that brings an important eyewitness account of early modern Southeast Asia closer to a contemporary, general Asian readership. The documents contained in this book are by Jacques de Coutre, a Flemish gem trader who spent nearly a decade in Southeast Asia at the turn of the 17th century.
He left history a substantial autobiography written in Spanish and preserved in the National Library of Spain in Madrid. Written in the form of a picturesque tale, with an acute eye for the cultures he encountered, the memoirs tell the story of his adventures in the trading centres of the day: Melaka, Ayutthaya, Cambodia, Patani, Pahang, ]ohor, Brunei and Manila. His account of Ayutthaya is arguably the oldest surviving eyewitness account of the old Thai royal capital written by a European visitor. Moreover, taken as a whole, De Coutre’s writings also offer the single most comprehensive European account of Singapore before 1800. Narrowly escaping death several times, De Coutre was inevitably drawn into dangerous intrigues between the representatives of European power, myriad fortune hunters and schemers, and the rulers and courtiers in the palaces of Pahang, Patani, Siam and ]ohor.
In addition to his autobiography, De Coutre wrote a series of memorials to the crowns of Spain and Portugal that contain recommendations designed to remedy the decline in the fortunes of the Iberian powers in Southeast Asia, particularly against the backdrop of early Dutch political and commercial penetration into the region. Annotated and translated into English for the ﬁrst time, these materials provide a valuable ﬁrst-hand account of the issues confronting the early colonial powers in Southeast Asia, and deep insights into the societies De Coutre encountered in the territory that today makes up Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines. The book is lavishly illustrated with 62 maps and drawings of the period, including examples previously not published.
About the authors: Peter Borschberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore and a Visiting Professor in Modern History at the University of Greifswald. Roopanjali Roy is an independent translator living in Lisbon.
His (Jacques de Coutre) notes, which one could candidly describe as an early form of blogging, were valued for their narrative eyewitness accounts of early Southeast Asia. (From our newsletter)
Scholars and teachers will welcome this translation of the travels of ]acques de Coutre in Southeast Asia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Both informative and entertaining, it records a young man’s experiences as he encountered societies very different from his own…. Richly illustrated and extensively annotated, it will be a valuable resource not merely for specialists, but for all those anxious to bring the past to life in the classroom. – Barbara Andaya, University of Hawaii
Peter Borschberg’s carefully illustrated, impeccably translated and eruditely annotated edition of some of De Coutre’s most valuable works – from the memoirs and memorials – is an exquisite human self-portrait d’époque and a remarkable contribution for the understanding and better knowledge of Southeast Asian geography, culture, regional internal logics of power, political tensions, civil and military violence, commercial rivalries and sophisticated diplomatic practices shared by Asian and Western parties (Portuguese and Dutch). This book presents an invaluable depiction of maritime Southeast Asia (the Straits, Melaka, ]ohor, Siam, Manila) at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries, masterly and vividly painted by an extraordinary eyewitness and active participant in the “great game” of those days. — Antonio Vaseoncelos de Saldanha, University of Macau